Terra Phantastica - Reader Retroview  

Modus Operandi
by JuMeSyn

Click here for game information
40-60 Hours
+ Unique battle system that works
+ Fairly interesting story, even in Japanese
+ Good challenge level
- ...Only in Japanese
- Battles drag on
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   The Saturn had a very high number of worthy RPGs that were doomed to remain forever in Japan. Terra Phantastica warrants inclusion in that lengthy list of good games on the Saturn that English-speakers were deprived of. While its tactical action has a few echoes of Dragon Force and a few resemblances to Ogre Battle, it doesn't play like either of them and still remains unique in the annals of tactical titles.

   The nation of Bowfon is causing a great deal of trouble for the Seresion Empire. In particular the Archduchy of Mais is under attack by Bowfon forces at the game's beginning, only for a woman with a noble bearing to singlehandedly strike down the leader of the Bowfon troops, one Zaitan. The woman, Deene, seems to have some memory issues but is eagerly enlisted by Mais to lead their forces in resistance. Bowfon may be the instigator of the war but the other parts of the Seresion Empire will see plenty of fighting, and thanks to the story being in Japanese I cannot elaborate too much on this. The Aroma Kingdom, the Republic of Albion, the Archduchy of Nordergard, and more will all be involved in what seems a rather intricate tale. Bowfon itself will not be invaded until the final chapter, with most of the interim being taken up by battles not with Bowfon's troops but civil war in Mais and plenty of maneuvering among the other nations.

   Battles in Terra Phantastica feature up to twelve player units versus a number of enemies going at it with a semi-standard isometric view tactical overhead camera. Each character has a given number of AP, Action Points, per turn. Each Action Point translates into being able to do one of the following; move, attack, use magic in a support situation if available, change formation of troops, use a different formation reorganization that I only had to use once at the end of the game, search, or recharge elan. Formation changes affect all the statistics of troops and can even extend troop range; the gamut of possible troop formations is quite large and varies depending upon the character and his/her troop type. I did not experiment much with this until the end of the game when forced to, but the options are quite varied.

   Upon attacking or being attacked the standard tactical view shifts to what resembles an isometric Dragon Force view. It resembles Dragon Force only in the visuals however, as the combat phase is nothing like that game. If the attacked unit was hit with a frontal assault the rules regarding troop attack priorities take over, and this can mean that the attacked unit will hit first. If the attacked unit was taken in flank or from the rear the attacker will always get the first strike. In a frontal assault, barring a lack of elan on either side, each unit will have three chances to take an action. If taken in the flank, the defender loses an action in turning and if taken from the rear, the defender loses two actions. The actions taken may be as follows: a basic attack, a charge (more powerful than the basic attack and saps enemy elan, but is unavailable to some troop types and also uses far more elan than a basic attack), the use of attack magic (which is usually the most powerful attack means available to the player but also gets drained very quickly), a formation change (the options are pretty limited if in the combat phase), defense, or retreat. Should a unit choose to retreat it will back up one space on the map and this combat phase will end. From two to six troops appear with their commander when a unit is at full health (some units such as war elephants and octopi are much bigger than others) and as damage is taken they gradually die off. The only effect upon a unit if all its troops are killed but the commander lives is to be unable to charge.

   The concept of elan is fairly simple to outline. Elan starts at 100 for every unit and goes down from moving, attacking, charging, or retreating. Once elan lowers enough the unit will get only two actions in a combat phase instead of three and its chances for retreat will drop greatly. The net result; any time the player cannot come up with anything else for a unit to do, recharging elan to maximize its fighting abilities is a necessity.

   How troops are assigned is also unusual in Terra Phantastica. Any character can have any unit given to him/her during the organization phase, which only takes place at the beginning of a chapter and cannot be altered afterward. The HP (or SP in this game) of a unit is a combination of its commander's statistics and the chosen troop type. The troop type also affects the number of action points available to a character and that character's move range. War elephants, for example, have high SP and are powerful attackers but only move three spaces each time. One type of cavalry has terrible defense and unimpressive SP but a move range of six and the ability to attack (though not charge) from two spaces away.

   Movement and attacking are also a bit different in Terra Phantastica than usual in tactical titles. Instead of the standard system wherein an attacker can only hit something it is directly adjacent to, here anything adjacent and next to that adjacent location can be hit. To put it another way: locations diagonally in the direction being faced can be attacked along with what is straight ahead. This expands with increases in range; catapults with ranges of six can hit things far to their side.

   One final note regarding the movement and attacking rules here. Whenever a unit is attacked, it turns to face its attacker. Even if the unit immediately retreats, it still faces its attacker while doing so. This can be exploited by both sides to deal grievous damage by constantly turning an enemy around and beating it from behind. It also means that, because it is almost always possible to turn and hit a unit from the flank (save when an incredibly narrow path intervenes), no unit is impossible to deal with in this manner.

   Experience is awarded to units that administer the killing blows only, but the parceling of experience seems more communal than most tactical titles. Some winds up with units even if they sat out the battle, though not as much. Experience is also awarded at the end of a battle only, and all characters gain levels at this time. Aside from one character (Marlene is vital) who knows healing magic, the only way to deal damage is to use certain stones that are on most battlefields to replenish SP and MP. These stones tend to be in range of enemies however, and the few battles without any are very dangerous.

   Terra Phantastica looks pretty good without pushing the Saturn's capabilities. Dragon Force, released months earlier in 1996, pushed the system harder. The later spell effects are alright without being impressive (Dark Magic in particular looks neat). The music is acceptable without being noteworthy save that a few more tracks would have been nice in the middle of the game. There is a fair amount of voice acting, and most of it is pretty good. A couple of old women feel like sandpaper on the ears, however.

   Challenge in this game is not terribly high once the player adapts to the mechanics. Deene and Alexis, Mais's crown prince, cannot be allowed to fall or it is instant Game Over. Any other character can fall in battle and will probably be fine. Not necessarily however, as death is a real possibility. Near the game's end there is a strange episode in which Deene can apparently call the spirits of the fallen party members back from Hell's maw, which was certainly unique. Terra Phantastica is also not a short game; the only English FAQ grossly understates its length by not mentioning about half of the battles. 40-50 hours seems a representative completion time. As for replay, there are frequently choices of where to go. From what I can detect this does not change the story much but it does change battles a fair amount by putting different opponents onto them and altering the goals.

   Terra Phantastica is not flawless thanks to the rare ability to alter troop dispositions and several battles that require a lot of running around before much combat, which means elan recharge time is vital. The final battle is also annoying thanks to its requiring the use of a formation change that was never needed before. The negatives are outweighed by this being a worthwhile tactical title that does some things differently and mostly succeeds. Sadly it has never been ported and there is no English translation, but the game is quite cheap on eBay and well worth looking into.

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